Global thinkers build local

28 August 2007

Three University of Sydney architecture and urban design students have just returned from South Africa where they have been working with locals in some of Johannesburg's poorest townships.

Final year architecture student Georgia Bowen worked in Alexandra, a township near the centre of Johannesburg.

"Alexandra's infrastructure was designed for a population of 70,000, but population estimates predict that approximately 350,000 to 500,000 are currently living there - all within one square mile," she said.

"Like most places in South Africa, housing in Alex is a complex and contentious issue. Residents can be found living in 'formal' houses, backyard shacks, hostel complexes, flats, and governmental bond housing.

"We worked with a yard of 11 homes, helping residents improve their environmental conditions." Bowen said she and her fellow students began by asking residents what their likes and dislikes were and what they would change about their environments.

Bowen said the project's aim was to suggest improvements local residents could make themselves at little to no cost.

As part of the project - called 'Small Changes, Big Improvements' - Bowen and her colleagues collaborated with locals to produce a "self-help" DVD and an instructional pamphlet that can be used and further developed by other local organisations.

Bowen was in South Africa as part of the Global Studio, which began as an initiative of the UN Millennium Project's Task Force to Improve the Lives of Slum Dwellers, and has been developed by the Universityof Sydney, Columbia University and the University of Rome.

The Global Studio is led by the University of Sydney's Associate Professor Anna Rubbo, along with a network of academics from universities across the world.

This year the School of Architecture and Planning at the University of Witwatersrand hosted Global Studio with the support of the City of Johannesburg. Previous studios were held in Vancouver and Istanbul.

"It was a remarkable opportunity to work for a month with over 100 students, teachers and city building professionals from more than 20 countries to discuss and explore the implementation ofideas on how participatory design and planning can alleviate poverty," Bowen said.

"The experience has helped my personal career direction," she said. With four other final year architecture and urban planning students at the University of Sydney, she has also established a non-profit organisation to build a secondary school for girls in Katolo, Kenya.

More information about the organisation, called 'Bricks + Cartwheels', is available online.

More information about Faculty of Architecture, Design & Planning Global Studio

Contact: Kath Kenny

Phone: 02 9351 2261